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Swifter than ever

We all meet adversities in life. But as Adele Truefeldt discovered, when she spoke to Paralympian Jack Swift, it's how we deal with them that reveals our true strength of character.

For many years, Jack Swift lived a pretty normal life in the North Eastern suburbs of Melbourne, plodding away as a plumber’s labourer for a pipeline construction company.

He enjoyed sport, went surfing on the weekends and often enjoyed a few cold beers with his mates. Not knowing exactly where his life was headed, he was about to start an apprenticeship when a horrific accident occurred. Jack’s right leg was crushed by an excavator, severing his leg and forcing him to become a below-knee amputee.

Enduring such a tragedy was a low point in his life, which forced him to question his future and how he’d overcome such a traumatic experience.

‘Losing a limb was very hard to deal with, both physically and mentally.’

The continuous support from his family and friends has helped him get through each day, and rather than feeling sorry for himself, Jack decided to turn his disability into a positive and begin training.

Just days following his amputation, Jack was fortunate enough to be introduced to triple Paralympic medallist and World Champion Don Elgin, who gave him hope and encouraged him to take up Paralympic sport.

‘He talked to me about his training and told me that I would be able to do most things, if not all the things I did before my accident.’

‘Once I had recovered enough and was up and walking, we talked about running. I then got a prosthesis made and he put me in contact with his best mate and coach Tim Matthews.’

Jack trained for countless hours and slowly got his times down to a competitive level in the 200 metres, 400 metres and relay events.

His first event was the 200 metres in March at the Australian National Athletics Championships in Perth, where he took third place. Training soon became his outlet, giving him a focus and something to strive for.

‘It [training] really has helped me so much to get through the whole situation. To be honest, I don’t know where I would be mentally without it.’

His intensive regime involved track sprint sessions four times per week and three to four strength and conditioning sessions with a focus on gaining even leg power.

Before he knew it, Jack’s persistence had paid off and he qualified for the International Paralympic World Championships held earlier this year in New Zealand. It was there he remarkably came 4th in the 400m.

His next dream is already in the pipeline – to wave the Aussie flag and represent his country. Jack has been selected in the 2012 London Paralympics shadow squad.

‘My ultimate goal is to be the fastest bloke in the world over 400m with one leg’.

Although he is proud of his athletic achievements, Jack believes his greatest achievement was being able to go through rehab and learn to walk again.

‘I don’t think there will be too many greater challenges in life than that.’

As well as training for his Paralympic events, Jack has completely changed his career path.

‘After spending a year off work and going through rehab, I told myself life is too short and I am only going to do things that I am truly passionate about’.

He is now working part-time as a personal trainer and is studying exercise science, both of which he never contemplated doing before his accident.

That one fateful day has changed Jack’s perspective on life, making him appreciate the little things, like getting out of bed and going for a walk.

‘I really don’t take anything for granted now, because I know what it is like to spend months on end in a bed and in a wheelchair. Being in a rehabilitation hospital opened my eyes and showed me how many people are worse off in life’.

Jack’s endured enormous adversity, tackled it head on and thrown it back under the excavator.

His advice for anyone who finds themself in a difficult situation is second to none.

‘You can go down one road or the other; one leads nowhere and the other can open doors you never imagined.  Stay positive and take nothing for granted, as it can always be worse’.

Adele Truefeldt is a third year Bachelor of Media Studies student at La Trobe University.

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